Monthly Chapter: March 2021 – Chapter 14

On the first of the month a new chapter is posted from an as yet to be released book. The current book is Tansy Moves In. This is the first book of the upcoming Oak Hill Series.

Chapter 14

The stairs were narrow but solid.  And the staircase seemed to extend out more than it extended down, like someone wanted to move away from the kitchen but not descend too far.  It was an odd angle for a stair case and Tansy felt each step in her calves as her legs expected a more standard rise and run from the stairs.  Luckily the staircase was not long. The wood sighed beneath her feet, but it was a soft sound, barely a breath.  There was no ominous creaking and when Tansy took a deep breath she smelled the lemon oil her aunt used to polish all of the wood work in the house. It calmed her nerves slightly about going onto a secret space.

The scent was comforting, as was the bright blue tinged light that followed her down the stairs.  The lights were all seemed to be on the same motion sensor and as she descended, the light ahead of her switched on to illuminate her way. 

The stairs were not long and they let out into a room.  Tansy wasn’t certain how far she descended but she didn’t think it was far.  “I don’t think I’m actually in the basement.” She said to herself looking around.  She didn’t think that the stairs were long enough to reach the basement level and the floor certainly didn’t feel as though it was resting on the poured concrete that made up the floor of the basement.  This floor was the same hardwood that was throughout the house.  It didn’t have the decorative inlays around the edges of the floors like most of the public rooms on the first floors were.  In fact these boards looked slightly wider and instead of the dark stain under the layer of wax, this floor had a sealant put over the boards.

“So either it’s an earlier part of the house or maybe a holdover from the servants quarters,” Tansy mused as she walked. The servant’s quarters were mostly gone before she ever visited the house so Tansy was only guessing but she thought it sounded right.

The floor was of little concern other than to let her know that she probably wasn’t in the basement as most of it was covered with a thick Turkish rug.  The rug, while still thick and luxurious, had seen better days.  Here and there were burn spots and stains as though the room really was used as a workshop. 

The room itself was an odd mix.  Book shelves were fitted into the walls and all of the shelves were filled.  There were books and jars and odd ornaments that Tansy had no name for. Some of the jars contained dried herbs, others liquids.  The jars were Eunice’s standard mason jars and they each bore a strip of masking tape over the front of them.  On the masking take Eunice’s clean and precise handwriting marked the contents.  Tansy couldn’t help smiling at them.  Even though the contents differed from what was stored above, they were still very much like Eunice.  Her Aunt put up jams, jellies, pickles of all variety and even some items preserved in oil.  Anything in her garden that wasn’t used immediately was made into something that could be used once the garden stopped producing. 

Unlike the other older ladies in the area who used fancier labels and decorative jars, Eunice always used varying sizes of mason jars and labeled them with masking tape and a sharpie marker.  When the jar was empty, the tape was peeled off and the jar made ready to be used again.  Eunice felt that the decorative labels were a waste.

“And that they leave too much of a sticky residue,” Tansy remembered.

Even though the herbs weren’t culinary and many of the labels had hand drawn skulls and cross bones with the word toxic written under them for extra emphasis, the sight of the familiar labeling pattern made them seem less strange.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t read much of them as they were labeled in what she thought might be Latin.  The sighed gave Tansy another tug of amusement to her lips.  When in high school Eunice was annoyed to find that Tansy was taking Spanish and not Latin.  Eunice was rather irate when she found out that Latin wasn’t even an option at the local high school. Her aunt had in fact written several scathing letters to the principal on the topic.

Most of the books on the shelves were older leather bound volumes with no names on the spines.  They were different colors and different sizes, but the spines were uniformly blank.  Wondering if they too were in Latin, Tansy stepped over to the nearest shelf and pulled down one of the books. She opened it and it fell open to a page automatically as though it was an often consulted page.

To tansy’s relief it was written in English. “To find that which is lost,” Tansy read. “I suppose that makes sense seeing as how Eunice was looking for something.”

Even though it was English it was old enough to be hand written.  Whoever wrote it had elegant hand writing and a tendency to write their letter s like a letter f. As she saw the same thing in many of the documents Eunice copied from the courthouse it wasn’t all that strange. The recipe, if that’s what it was, had been written in the center of the page with plenty of space around it.  The margins in fact were about two inches on either side.  It seemed like a wasted of space.

‘Except that the space was used,’ Tansy thought.  Around the elegantly written recipe designed to help the user find lost items, people added notes in less elegant hand writing.  Tansy counted at least four separate sets of hand written notes around the original recipe.  Some of the notes advocated substitutions for ingredients and others made comments on the ingredients.  Tansy saw Eunice’s neat writing with a comment and an arrow pointing to the section she disputed.  She had quite a lot to say

The ingredient was for twelve drops of dew collected at the full moon.  Eunice had several comments regarding this. “The phase of the moon is superstitious rot,” Eunice’s notes proclaimed.  There were two exclamation points at the end of the sentence. “What matters most is the fact that it is morning dew.  Water that has spent time in the atmosphere, collected the vibrations in the either and then been allowed to gently coalesce into slid droplets is best, although rain water will do in a pinch.  As each drop contains only a momentary impression of its time in the air, it will lose its potency quickly and must be gathered fresh.  After 2 hours and 26 minutes it is useless (see chart notes volume 6 – efficacy of dew). While twelve drops will get you what you need, more will provide a clearer vision although one tablespoon is the limit, any amount over one tablespoon will not only NOT provide clearer vision but risk watering down the other ingredients unnecessarily (see chart notes volume 5 – Ingredient measurements, Dew.)”

Despite the odd recipe and the strange thought of having a recipe to help you find what is lost, Tansy chuckled at the note.  Eunice treated recipes the same way in the kitchen. If a spice was included, Eunice would make the recipe was it was directed and then play around with measurement until she found   the upper and lower limits of its use.  She wanted to know how little she could use and still achieve the correct flavor a well as how much was too much.  Tansy knew that in the family living room there were several volumes containing her aunt’s notes from the kitchen experiments as she recorded the differences each change made.  She suspected if she were to look for the volumes marked Chart Notes, she would find similar notations to the ones upstairs.  It was so very Eunice.

Tansy closed the book and slid it back on the shelf.  She turned away and continued to look around.  With the toxic label on so many of the jars, she decided not to touch them at the moment.  For now it was enough to look and see what was here.  All of the jars marked toxic were grouped together and separated from ingredients that weren’t toxic by shelves full of small objects.  The objects were interesting. 

There was a large variety of bowls. She found several sizes, each made from a different material. There were a selection of wooden ones, each bowl made from a different wood, and a selection of stone bowls.  She didn’t know enough to know what sort of stone they were, but the color and texture of each varied.  There were also metal bowls.  There was one of hammered silver and another made of what looked like gold.  There was a bowl with the dull look that old pewter had and thee was a shiny copper bowl.  There was a cheap looking bowl that appeared to be made of tin and there was an aluminum bowl and even a stainless steel bowl that looked like it was once part of a set of kitchen mixing bowls.  There were ceramic bowls and finally a beautiful blue glass bowl.

“Lots of bowls,” Tansy thought. 

Placed between the stacked bowls were smaller items.  Tansy spotted small smooth stones attached to chains, small bundles of feathers bound together with twine. Droppers for dispensing small amounts of liquids, a set of measuring spoons, small carved figurines of people, animals and everyday objects in a variety of wood and stone that almost rivaled the collection of bowls for their number and variety. There was an old jar filled with marbles.  It had a small crack along the side which Tansy guessed made Eunice retire it from the canning process and reuse it as storage.  There were other items, most hald hidden in shadow. 

Tansy left them where they were and moved on.  Along the back wall was a long ow work bench.  There was one rolling stool in front of it.  The work table was wood and looked as though it might have started off life in a wood or metal working shop.  There were deep drawers and vises attached to the edge in places.  There were cabinets attached to the wall above the table and the strip of wall between the table top and the cabinets was line with cork.  Here and there various newspaper articles and time tables were tacked to the wall.  The time tables varied from the phases of the moon to the tides to local bus schedules and upcoming holidays. The newspaper articles and magazine clippings had nothing to do with the hunt for the overly elaborate rings.  They looked mostly as though they were just things that caught her Aunt’s eye.  As Tansy scanned the board she saw that half buried under an article about a local baking competition, was what looked like the corner of an envelope.  Curious, Tansy leaned forward and lifted the edge of the clipping.  To her surprise she found pinned to the wall a while letter envelope with her name written on it.

Tansy blinked, surprised to see her name written in Eunice’s careful lettering. She unpinned it from the wall and set it on the top of the work bench.  Tansy pulled the rolling stool out from under the table and took a seat at the work bench.

The envelope did not look new.  There were discolorations all along the surface where parts of the front were covered by other articles and parts were left to fade.    Some of the faded spots were quite yellow.  In addition there were multiple holes where various articles were tacked over it, the pin of the tack going through the envelope.

Tansy wondered if it was something Eunice wrote and just never got around to giving her or if she meant it to be found when Tansy came back after she was gone.  She ran her fingers over the surface and found it slightly gritty with dust. “Certainly not new.”

Tansy wiped her fingers on her jeans and flipped the envelope over.  The back was not sealed shut, but in parts the humidity activated the glue and caused it to stick.  It was an older style envelope with the type of back you licked in order to moisten it to get it to seal. “I didn’t think they still made those.”

While Tansy rarely sent actual letters, the few times she used envelopes they all had stickers on the back where she peeled off the protective coating to expose the glue and then pressed them shut.

Tansy slipped her finger under the open part of the flap and ran it across the back, loosening the flap and opening the letter.  Inside was one folded page.  Tansy slipped the page from the envelope and set the envelope to the side.  She unfolded the page and began to read.

The letter was short, written by Eunice and addressed to her in her aunt’s matter of fact tones.

‘Tansy,

First of all, you aren’t going mad.  I feel I should lead with that as it is no doubt your first concern.  It was mine at least.  I’m sure you are seeing things that you know cannot be and are probably doubting your senses.  I repeat, you aren’t going mad.’

At the sight of the few simple sentences, Tansy felt her breath whoosh out of her as relief filled her.  She read on.

‘There is magic in our blood.  Some use it, some ignore it, but all have it.  I have it, your father had it and you have it as well.  At times it manifested in you, but you managed to find a way to justify it or ignore it so I thought it best to not mention it. If you wished to go your own way, so be it.  Your father was always adamant that you be allowed to choose your own path and in this I have honored his wishes.

Regardless of your choices, there will be a resurgence of magic around you with my passing.  The wards and protections placed on this house, by myself and those who came before me, will align to you as soon as my ashes are scattered in the wood.

In this house you will always be safe, even if you want nothing to do with magic.  No one can enter without your leave.

I caution you to be wary of who you grant permission to enter.  There are many others in Oak Hill with magic in their blood, in fact all of the founding families of Oak Hill possessed magic.  It is a factor in the blood, an element of genetics not a compact with the devil. Like any trait, magic is neither good nor bad on its own but used for good or ill by those who wield it.  Not all are good, but not all are bad. You will find friends as well as enemies.

The magic of Oak Hill has, in its way, shaped the development of the town as well.  Many who normally eschew contact with humans have been drawn to settle nearby.  They stay mostly towards the older sections and away from the new arrivals commuting to the city.  You have the potential to be strong enough for them to take an interest in you.  Just remember not all you meet are who and what they seem and tread carefully. 

Should you choose to walk the path of magic and use what is in your blood, the books in this room will guide and teach you.  Start with the lowest shelf of books as those are designed for beginners.  The first of the lessons will help you gain control, if nothing else. I always meant to have this discussion with you.  It is my hope that I have, but as the world is often an unpredictable place, I am leaving this letter in case I am prevented from talking to you directly. It is not the introduction I hope for and with luck this letter will be unnecessary. 

Once I am gone, the others will keep their distance until you have made your decision regarding the use of your magic and your residency in Oak Hill.  They are not allowed to intervene until your decision has been made. If you decided to accept the magic then my friends can be allowed to serve as guides as you enter our world.  If you decide to reject the magic, they will come and offer condolences, nothing more.  Regardless of your choice, you must take those first steps alone.  Do not worry about notifying them, it will be obvious to all of them when your decision has been made.  Regardless of your choices, I leave you will all the love in my heart and wish you the best this life has to offer.

Love, Aunt Eunice.’

Tansy set the letter down and felt tears prickling her eyes and a lump rising in her throat. Feelings of loss swamped her and the loss of her aunt finally became real.  For the first time since she was told of the death, Tansy cried.

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